Magazine article American Cinematographer

"O Pioneers!" or "Inside I.L.M."

Magazine article American Cinematographer

"O Pioneers!" or "Inside I.L.M."

Article excerpt

A deceptively quiet installation in San Rafael, California is the magic factory that spawned all manner of on-screen wizardry for "EMPIRE"

The factory-style building on a trading estate at San Rafael, California, which houses Industrial Light and Magic, and where some seventy people are employed, gives no outward hint of a connection with show business. Yet it is a film studio in miniature where about onefifth of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK has been filmed-without actors. When you enter the reception area the only feature to suggest that the product of the company is unusual is a colored plaque showing a figure in top hat and tails waving a wand, unmistakably a magician. Il is the trademark of this house of magic.

Behind this area and some offices are workshops and laboratories where technicians, whose average age must be under thirty, work with that air of abstraction characteristic of the scientific mind. They seem unhurried, absorbed in detail; they confer with one another fraternally. At the end of the day they are replaced by a nightshift. Around the clock scenes for the space fantasy were being filmed which have no earthly counterpart. You could not shoot them "live"; they don't exist. No location could provide their sometimes awesome scope. Where could you go to shoot the destruction of a star or film machines like monstrous animals trudging across an infinity of snow? Only here is that possible for this is where the barely imaginable is brought to life, and it is done by stretching technology to its furthest reach.

From a tour of the departments and talking to the supervisors I gathered that a locked print of the picture had been delivered to them and that they had started processing into it the effects they have been developing over the past year, and they are still creating more. Work was proceeding on the miniatures and opticals and on the stop-motion and animation for scenes with animal and mechanical creatures. An exceptionally complex sequence showing the Millennium Falcon flying through an asteroid belt pursued by Imperial Tie-fighters was being meticulously crafted and I saw some clips from it when George Lucas joined his team in the viewing room. Although it seemed to me an incredible achievement, the technicians were not satisfied. The spaceship was not maneuvering to their complete satisfaction so they talked the problem over using terminology I could not synthesize into the language of every day, and at the end of the discussion like all good boffins they returned to their benches and drawing-boards. …

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